Offshore project proposals

For all offshore projects, a proponent (the company proposing the project) is required to submit an offshore project proposal (OPP) to NOPSEMA for approval. The OPP process involves NOPSEMA’s assessment of the potential environmental impacts and risks of petroleum activities conducted over the life of an offshore project. The process includes a public comment period prior to approval and requires a proponent to ensure environmental impacts and risks will be managed to acceptable levels. Following approval, proponents still require environment plan(s) to be assessed and approved by NOPSEMA before activities can commence.


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What is an offshore petroleum project?

An offshore project is where one or more petroleum activities are planned for the recovery of petroleum. Petroleum activities that comprise an offshore project include the construction, commissioning, operations and decommissioning of facilities and pipelines as well as production drilling and any other activity undertaken for the recovery of petroleum. It does not include drilling for exploration or appraisal purposes, or any other petroleum exploration activities such as seismic surveys.

The requirement for an OPP

In 2014, NOPSEMA became the sole Commonwealth regulator for environmental management of offshore petroleum activities following streamlining of regulatory processes under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (OPGGS Act) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The effect of streamlining is that offshore petroleum activities only require approval by NOPSEMA under the OPGGS Act and no longer require separate approval by the Minister for the Environment under the EPBC Act.

To allow for streamlining to occur, a number of changes to the Environment Regulations administered by NOPSEMA were made. This included introducing the concept of an OPP to allow for public scrutiny and comment on offshore petroleum developments early in the project lifecycle. The OPP process reflects the level of transparency and opportunity for public comment that is provided for through the Environmental Impact Statement/Public Environmental Review process under the EPBC Act.

Unlike the previous EPBC Act process, the requirement for an OPP applies to all offshore projects regardless of the potential level of impact or risk to the environment that the project may present. An OPP for a project must be accepted by NOPSEMA before the proponent can submit environment plans for activities that make up the project. 

Assessment process 

Flowchart - Assessment for offshore project plans - April 2016

Preparation of an OPP - Content requirements

The Environment Regulations detail the required content for an OPP, this includes:

  • a description of the project, including location and proposed timetable

  • a description of the environment that may be affected by the project, including details of the particular relevant values and sensitivities

  • sets out environmental performance outcomes for the project

  • a description of any feasible alternative to the project, or an activity that is part of the project

  • a description of the legislative and other requirements that apply to the project

  • details and an evaluation of the environmental impacts and risks of the project, appropriate to the nature and scale of each impact or risk.

  • a summary of any public comments made and how they were evaluated and addressed

  • a demonstration of any changes made to the proposal as a result of public comment.

NOPSEMA’s interpretation of the content requirements for an OPP as specified in the Environment Regulations is detailed in the GN1663 - OPP content requirements - Rev 2 - October 2016 (PDF 1.2MB).

Assessment - Stage 1

During the first stage of the assessment process, NOPSEMA assesses an offshore project proposal for its suitability for publication against four acceptance criteria.

The criteria are set out in the Environment Regulations and require that an OPP:

  • identifies and evaluates the environmental impacts and risks of the project

  • presents environmental performance outcomes that are consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and relevant to the impacts and risks identified

  • does not involve any part of an activity being undertaken in a World Heritage property

  • addresses the content requirements.

NOPSEMA’s decision to accept the proposal for publication relates to those acceptance criteria being met in that the document provides enough information to allow any member of the public to make an informed comment on the proposal. It is not a decision related to the acceptability or otherwise of the proposal, that decision occurs during stage two of the assessment.

Opportunity for public comment

The public has the opportunity to review and provide comment on an OPP once NOPSEMA has determined the OPP is suitable for publication. All public comment is provided to NOPSEMA who will forward a copy of the comments received to the proponent for their consideration. Following the public comment period, the proponent must prepare a consultation report and final OPP for assessment by NOPSEMA. In the report, the proponent must summarise the comments received with an assessment of the merits of each comment, a statement of their response to each comment, and an outline of any changes made to the OPP as a result of the comment.

Assessment - Stage 2

The second stage of the assessment process follows a minimum four week public comment period and the time it takes the proponent to incorporate the public comments into the OPP. During this stage, NOPSEMA assesses the OPP against five acceptance criteria to determine acceptability or otherwise of the OPP.

The criteria are set out in the Environment Regulations and require that an OPP:

  • adequately address public comments

  • is appropriate for the nature and scale of the project

  • identifies and evaluates the environmental impacts and risks of the project

  • presents environmental performance outcomes that are consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development and demonstrate that the environmental impacts and risks of the project will be managed to an acceptable level

  • does not involve any part of an activity being undertaken in a World Heritage property.

Approval - Acceptance criteria

NOPSEMA can only accept an OPP once it has determined the proposal meets all of the acceptance criteria as set out in the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009 (Environment Regulations). This includes whether the final OPP adequately addresses the comments received during the public comment period. If the OPP meets the criteria set out in the Environment Regulations and the OPP is accepted, NOPSEMA will publish the final OPP in full on its website.

If NOPSEMA determines the proponent has not evaluated and addressed public comment adequately or the final OPP does not meet all the requirements of the Environment Regulations then NOPSEMA will refuse to accept the proposal. In the instance of a refusal decision, NOPSEMA will publish on its website a Statement of Reasons.

If NOPSEMA accepts the final OPP then that acceptance does not provide the necessary approval for an offshore petroleum activity to begin. Each activity within an accepted OPP must also have an accepted environment plan in place before it can begin. For more information about environment plans see the Environment plans page.

Inherent within the acceptance criteria and explicit in the Environment Regulations is the requirement to address impacts and risks to protected matters under part 3 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).